Revel In Rivals, Code Red Catch-Up Part 3

Here's a twisted little flick I doubt many appreciate: 1972's Rivals (not to be confused with 1981's Rivals, 2000's Rivals, 2008's Rivals or the dozen or so other listings the IMDB has for the title "Rivals").  This Rivals is another one of those "not quite horror, but definitely horror adjacent flicks.  This is a smart, twisted dramatic thriller for that select audience that liked Julie Darling or the recent Better Watch Out.  It stars child actor Scott Jacoby, and I like to think it forms a dark trilogy with his other films Bad Ronald and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, just like The Last House On the Left, House On the Edge Of the Park and Hitch Hike make up a disturbing David Hess trilogy.
Jacoby lives with his mom, Joan Hackett (nominated for an Academy Award for Only When I Laugh, but as far as I'm concerned, most memorable in the final, amazing segment of Dead Of Night, Bobby), in New York City.  Everything seems great, he enjoys making movies with his friends and despite being just 10 years-old has stepped into the responsibilities of being "the man of the house."  That position is threatened when Robert Klein starts courting Joan, but she assures him he just has to win her son over.  Well, we've all seen enough Bad Seed variants to know how well that's going to go.  But like I said, this isn't exactly horror.  Don't expect a lot of social workers to be pushed out of windows or nosy neighbors to get slashed with a knife.  This is a more serious, psychological film.  Better Watch Out was all about surprising you with shocking plot twists around each corner and drawing you into the classic, Hitchcock game of "how will the killer get away with his crime?"  Rivals is more about making you ask, "jeez, what is lurking in that kid's mind?"
The performances are top notch and go a long way to carrying this film, particularly Jacoby.  This film's written and directed by Krishna Shah, the man who brought us Hardrock Zombies; but this film couldn't be more different.  It's serious, dramatically compelling and features some weird, creepy imagery.  The fact that it has the scrappy, low budget feel of a first-time filmmaker straight out of film school tackling very adult topics most Hollywood films would be afraid to touch (it's definitely an "only in the 70s" kinda movie) only makes things feel more off-beat and unsettling.  Return Of the Living Dead's James Karen co-stars and it's chock-full of great New York City locations.  The score is very scattershot, sometimes great, sometimes terrible, even bursting out into a nearly full-blown musical number at one point.  Shah seems to be experimenting with every scene, and it mostly works.  I think it's kinda great, but I certainly wouldn't fire it up on a first date.
Unsurprisingly, Rivals hasn't had a lavish history on home video.  I was excited to see Code Red gave it a chance when they released it on DVD in 2010, because I doubt anybody else would've touched it except maybe some cheap budget label throwing it in a box of 50 generic dramas or something.  With Code Red, I knew I was going to get a nice, widescreen presentation taken from original film elements.  And that's great, because this seems to be the only disc of the film available anywhere in the world.
Code Red US 2010 DVD.
The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen at 1.78:1, though there is a little shifting dead space in what would've been the overscan areas.  This seems to be taken from a film print, and seems fairly soft and faded, which is probably down to the original elements.  There's a little print damage, but not much.  I bet a 4k scan of the original negatives would look world different, but this meets reasonable expectations fairly well.  The only real disappointment, as you can see above, is the interlacing problem.  That's a distinct flaw, and it's double- not single-frame, so even casual viewers who don't usually notice interlacing will probably be annoyed, especially whenever the camera pans horizontally.  It makes you pine for an upgrade, but I have a feeling this is one of the DVD titles Code Red has never been able to shift out of its warehouses, which is a shame.
The audio is the original mono, presented with a little hiss and some pops, but nothing you wouldn't expect to hear in sync with this film.  There are no subtitle options of any kind.  This is a very no frills release for Code Red, no bonus trailers or even a menu.  You put the disc in and it starts playing the movie, and hitting the "menu" button does nothing.  But if you let the disc keep playing after the film, you do get the film's original trailer, which I imagine is pretty rare given the film, so that's a nice little treat at least.
Look, I can't express how "not for everybody" this one is, but if you're reading this thinking it sounds like the kind of movie you'd be interested in than, yes, Rivals will probably live up to and even exceed your expectations.  This is very much a cult film, but one with artier and more serious aspirations than most.  You won't find many others like it.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know it it was uncut (back of the box says "Rated R" and approx 103 minutes) but it was almost certainly 1.33:1/FF mono...

    Continental Video (cat #1046) released this in a big box in 1985. They also released Shah's The River Niger (cat #1017) a year earlier.